3 Tips for Turns in a Cross Country Race

Being fit and mentally prepared for a cross country race are two very important factors for running a fast time, but there are other things you can do to shave some seconds off your time.  One easy fix is to attack each turn correctly.

On a typical cross country running course, there will be three types of turns.

1. Gradual Turns
2. Sharp Turns
3. Two Turns in a row (Right-Left or Left-Right)

Each type of turn is an opportunity to cut down on your time if you attack the turn properly. Below is a video showing how to run each type of turn. The footage from the video comes from a high school meet in West Bend, Wisconsin.


Before you worry about the turns, you should know that you don't have to run on the line during a cross country race. Usually, there is one line painted in the center of the course that you can follow throughout the entire race. This line is just there to guide you through the course. You don't have to run on it, just near it. The one thing you have to do though, is run between the flags.

1. Gradual Turns. On some courses, several flags in a row will be placed for a gradual turn. For instance, there might be three red flags in a row signifying a left turn. As you run by the red flags, stay to the right, but get as close as you can to them. Just think of it as if you are running on the track. Running right next to the flags is just like running on the inside lane of the track. If you run far to the outside of the turn, you are adding on extra distance to your race. That's never good! Stay on the inside and get right next to those flags on a gradual turn.

2. Sharp Turns. Most turns on a cross country course are going to be sharp 90 degree turns. Usually there is just one flag up, and you have to run around the flag. Just because you are making a 90 degree turn, don't run straight to the edge of the flag, slow down, pivot for the turn, and then speed up again. You lose all your momentum this way, and even though you took the shortest distance, it will cost you time and energy. Instead of coming straight at the flag, start from the outside, and then cut in towards the flag. This will allow you to keep your momentum, and still allow you to take a short route. Run a tight turn like a baseball player runs by first base for a double. A baseball player doesn't run right at the base, stop, turn, and then sprint for second. They round each base to keep their momentum going.

3. Two Turns - (Right & Left or Left & Right). This type of pattern has you weaving between two different turns with a short distance between each flag. When there are two different turns, you need to try and cut right down the middle between each flag. You'll end up crossing the center line of the course right in the middle of the two flags. Stay tight up against the first turn, but then head right for the second flag and cut it tight against that flag too.

There are some cases where you won't be able to run flags perfectly. One example would be at the start of the race. Sometimes, when there is a large crowd, it's actually better to be on the outside than on the inside. The large crowd can sometimes pinch the inside runners together and force this group to slow down, while the runners on the outside are able to run around the turn quicker.

Also, if you are running side by side with another runner, you won't be able to take each turn as tight. You shouldn't waste energy and sprint just to get the inside lane on each turn. Just keep an even pace and do your best to stay inside without getting in the way of other runners.

I hope these tips help you to race the turns fast during your next cross country meet.

- Written by David Tiefenthaler



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This article was written by David Tiefenthaler, the founder and main contributor for Tips4Running.com. In addition to running, he's also an author, and a full time teacher.

You can follow David on Twitter @Tiefsa or visit his blog
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